primary crusher

The old mill property at Missouri Mines State Historic Site has been converted to a museum and is open for a special event this weekend. The primary crusher and other buildings are not part of the tour, but add perspective to the size of the former operations.

No matter what your favorite school subject might be, the Missouri Mines State Historic Site has something to like. This weekend it will hold a special event to bring the museum to life, with free admission for kids of all ages.

This family-friendly educational event from 5 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 29, will be set up in the Powerhouse Museum, offering games and other activities to showcase the importance of mineral resources in modern society. The site and its surrounding facilities reflect an important component of our regional history, and the event will highlight mining through science, art, reading, and numbers to marvel a math whiz.

For nearly 300 years, the area just south of Jefferson County known as the Old Lead Belt has provided lead as raw material for essential manufacturing. Preserved on the site of the St. Joseph Lead Company’s Federal Mill No. 3, the buildings and associated museum provide a look into the not-so-distant past.

St. Joe operated the largest lead mill in the world on the property until 1972. A few years later the company donated the mill complex and more than 8,200 acres of surrounding land to the state Department of Natural Resources. Most of that property became St. Joe State Park, but in 1980, the 25-acre mill complex was designated as the Missouri Mines State Historic Site.

The old buildings are easily recognized from state Hwy. 32 west of Hwy. 67. Although a few of the original structures are now displayed on the site map by their remaining foundations, more than 20 buildings still stand and portray the scope of the operation. The 19,000-square-foot powerhouse is home to the museum, with plans for additional development.

One of the galleries includes some of the underground equipment used in the mining operations. The St. Joe Shovel is a specially designed machine for loading ore cars deep below the Earth’s surface. Only 52 of the electric-powered crawlers were built. Other equipment on display include a “speeder” for moving miners throughout the shafts, and an “electric mule” locomotive that transported the ore-filled cars.

For fans of science, the geology and mineral gallery features a collection of stones from throughout the state and more than 1,000 specimens from around the world. There’s also a special room displaying minerals that glow under ultraviolet black light.

According to the State Park website, most of the mineral collection originally belonged to Fayette Graves, a local mining company executive. He began collecting as a young man in 1866, and by the turn of the century had assembled the finest mineral collection in Missouri with about 3,000 carefully-chosen specimens from all over the world.

For years, the Graves collection was shown in a company-owned museum in the little hamlet of Doe Run. After the St. Joseph Lead Co. assumed legal ownership, the pieces were donated to the state of Missouri.

A small theater area attached to the former shower facilities shows a 12-minute video of the mining and milling operations at work. The museum shop offers books and other standard state park souvenirs, and visitors also may purchase minerals, custom jewelry, and rock hound equipment.

Future plans for the museum include showcasing the many other mining operations in the state with an emphasis on social themes, such as life in the mining community, company housing, the company-store system, labor unions, and health and safety issues.

Another display explains how the solubility of lead and its use in building materials and products such as paint resulted in increased blood lead levels in schoolchildren throughout the 20th century. In its mineral form, galena ore is not as hazardous, but that doesn’t mean that miners did not face serious health concerns. It does mean that visitors to the museum and grounds need not worry about any potential exposure, except for the knowledge provided by an in-person history lesson.

The weekend’s special event will be presented by historic site team members and volunteers from the Doe Run Co.

Missouri Mines State Historic Site is at 4000 State Hwy. 32 in Park Hills. For more information, call 573-431-6226. For more information on state parks and historic sites, visitmostateparks.com.

John Winkelman has been writing about outdoors news and issues in Jefferson County for more than 30 years and is the Associate Editor for Outdoor Guide Magazine. If you have story ideas for the Leader outdoor news page, e-mail ogmjohnw@aol.com, and you can find more outdoor news and updates at johnjwink.com.